Miéville & Toews: fiction as a living thing

By Vikki VanSickle

Last night’s event, part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference at IFOA, featured two very different speakers covering two very different topics.

From England, award-winning fantasy and science fiction writer China Miéville postulating on the future of the novel, and from Canada, literary darling Miriam Toews dissecting the idea of a national literature. Thanks to moderator Rachel Giese who drew clear parallels between these two very different keynote addresses and lead the audience in a rich discussion.

I made it, it’s mine.

Miéville is a commanding speaker who delighted the audience with wry and at times critical observations of the literati and an imaginative and open view of the future. He spoke passionately about the demise of authorial authority, envisioning a future where “guerilla editors” get their hands on texts and edit, embellish, and “re-mix” content. Texts will no longer be “closed” in an era of digitally distributed texts. We need to change our perspective and put the book ahead of the author. Once authors can get over the fact that they aren’t special, they are workers like anyone else, it will allow the focus to be on the book.

China Miéville at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

The crowd rallied behind Miéville’s vision of the future in which writers receive a salary, a somewhat far-fetched idea that would require the toppling of current political and economic systems—but one can dream, right?

Miéville’s address was a perfect example of how content can be re-mixed, as it was based on a speech given earlier this year, with some alterations based on the discussion it generated. Talk about metafiction! You can check out his original keynote address here.

Serve your nation by serving your story.

Miriam Toews is a warm and endearing speaker who wears her heart on her sleeve. Toews spoke candidly about the odd position she has found herself in as a sort of expert in Mennonite culture; a position that has been imposed by others due to her background and content in some of her work. She talked about being both criticized and praised by the Mennonite community, and how this also typifies the demands of a so-called national literature. Communities demand allegiance; they expect their members to “reinforce certain pre-approved narratives.”

Miriam Toews at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

Toews believes this is the crux of the problem with a national literature—that it demands obligation and confines the writer to ideals that may not exist.  Ideas of national identity belong to the past, and any attempt to construct an identity will be outdated by the time the reader comes to it.

If the writer has any job at all, Toews said, it is only to serve the story. By serving the story the writer is ultimately serving her nation.

Some thoughts to take away. Toews described fictional stories as “a secular bible of a community,” which struck me as a sage observation. Think of this year’s Canada Reads format, in which people are asked to vote for books that represent a region and then one book will be chosen out of these books that ultimately represents Canada. Celebrating regionalism only to pit the regions against each other seems contradictory. I’d be curious to know what Toews take on this format is.

Both Miéville and Toews spoke about the book as living thing, and how interpretations are as varied as the individuals who read the book. Being surprised by a reader’s take on a character or receiving fan art work or fan fiction exemplify ways in which a book “lives.” An audience member asked, “But what if they get it wrong?” Both Toews and Miéville insist that there is no such thing as a wrong interpretation, and just because an author created a work does not make them the ultimate authority.

Some heady discussion and lots to ponder! Looking forward to Saturday’s double bill!

This event was part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, in partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council.

Follow VanSickle on her blog, pipedreaming, or on Twitter @vikkivansickle.

House of Anansi turns 45

By Corina Milic

“The first sound I make,” said Graeme Gibson, as he commenced reading the opening lines of Five Legs, “you have to realize is an alarm clock. I’m not very good at alarm clocking…Ring.”

Gibson set the tone for Thursday night’s round table recognizing the House of Anansi Press’ 45thanniversary. It was a funny and poignant romp through the publishing company’s history, which began in 1967 with Dennis Lee, David Godfrey and 12 bottles of beer.

Dennis Lee and Nick Mount at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

Lee joined the round table, along with Gibson, whose experimental Five Legs was the first novel Anansi published in 1968. In honour of its anniversary, Anansi has rereleased the title, along with several other classics. Along for the ride were Lynn Crosbie (Life is About Losing Everything) and president Sarah MacLachlan. Nick Mount, author and fiction editor at The Walrus, moderated.

Lee credits his partner for starting the press, by insisting they publish Lee’s book of poems, Kingdom of Absence. In the year that Godfrey was part of the company, he also brought in Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood.

Anansi formed during a time when young, Canadian writers were mostly working alone, said Lee. Anansi provided a place for an “extraordinary process of writers emerging at the same time, becoming aware of each other and creating community.”

Gibson said he too wrote in isolation—in the eight years he spent working on his first novel, he didn’t meet a single writer.

He added that at that time small press mentality defined Canadian writing, and came to define the type of work Anansi published. “We knew we wouldn’t make money. There was no advance, no expectation of royalties. It created an intense, emotional ferocity.”

Sarah MacLachlan, Graeme Gibson and Lynn Crosbie at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

Lynn Crosbie joined the House in 1996 with her book Pearl. She said it was a logical choice, because Anansi “did and still does take a risk on writers.”

That is something that hasn’t changed much over the years. Anansi is known for publishing books on the edge of the mainstream (moderator Nick Mount joked, wouldn’t just selling Fifty Shades of Greybe a better bet?). The authors on stage agreed the house maintained that focus, even as Anansi faced bankruptcy in the early 2000s, was purchased out of oblivion by Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize, in 2002 and expanded with Sarah MacLachlan at the helm from three to 27 employees.

“I think its important for us to keep publishing things that are on the edge, that take risks,” said MacLachlan. Later she added, “We make a pact with writers: we aren’t going to give the biggest advances but we’re going to stick with you. This is a vocation, not an occupation.”

From the early days when Gibson and his friends papered Toronto with 800 posters of Five Legs to several years ago when Anansi got its first button maker, MacLachlan says they haven’t lost their folksy touch.

Learn more about Milic’s attempts to read every book in her home on her blog. Visit readings.org for more IFOA events.

Five Questions with… Russell Wangersky

© Ned Pratt Photography

Russell Wangersky, author of Whirl Away, will appear in three IFOA events this weekend, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize event.

IFOA: Your new short story collection has been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (congrats!). What is it about short stories that appeals to you?

Wangersky: I like short stories for a simple, greedy reason; they are short enough that I can hold the entire story in my head while working on it. With novels, you end up going back and forth sometimes, trying to remember just exactly where something happened. The legwork is incredible, and, frankly, not much fun.

IFOA: Which of the characters in Whirl Away is most like you?

Wangersky: I think I have to say Tim McCann, the ambulance driver/paramedic in the story “911,” because he drives around with the same passle of self-doubt I do.

IFOA: When and where do you write?

Wangersky: I write at a computer in my kitchen in St. John’s, during whatever time I can steal between a full-time newspaper job and magazine freelance work.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Wangersky: I honestly like the right now—but I think that’s mostly because I’m naturally unsettled with new things. I know where I fit in the familiar.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The best part is…

Wangersky: Dinnertime.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Wangersky: Kaleidoscopic.

For more about Wangersky at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Ned Beauman

Ned Beauman will share The Teleportation Accident in two IFOA events this weekend. He will also travel to Parry Sound with IFOA Ontario.

© Dylan Forsberg

IFOA: If you could be teleported anywhere right now, where and when would you go, and why?

Beauman: I wish I was attending Frieze Art Fair in London. I can’t really justify the flight from Istanbul, because I have nothing to do with the art world, although like many novelists I am always looking for a way to wheedle my way in.

IFOA: There’s been a lot of talk about the fact that you were longlisted for the Man Booker Prize at age 27. Tell us, what’s age got to do with it?

Beauman: I’d like to make a remark here about how I wouldn’t even have been the youngest person ever to made it to the shortlist. But that would make it easy to infer that I’d gone to the effort to check that on Wikipedia. So I had better move on.

IFOA: You’ve been writing since you were a child. What was the subject of the first story you remember writing?

Beauman: I don’t remember. The first story I got published, in a university creative writing magazine, was a sort of Pale Fire knock-off in the form of a DVD director’s commentary on a bad film, also inspired by some of Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell’s similar pieces on the McSweeney’s website.

IFOA: What are your favourite and least favourite words—today, at least?

Beauman: Favourite: “simit”, because it’s one of the Turkish words that I can remember. Least favourite: “afedersiniz”, because it isn’t.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Beauman: Peaking.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Beauman: Junket.

For more about Beauman at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield, author of the debut novel Malarky, will appear in a second IFOA event on Saturday, October 27.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first novel. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Schofield: The incredible response to it! Malarky was selected as a Summer 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. The day I found out I bought a packet of Mrs. Vickies salt and vinegar chips to celebrate with my son. I have been receiving lovely messages from readers many of whom identified with Our Woman in Malarky.

IFOA: What does the word “malarky” mean to you? (Is it fair to ask you to try to sum it up?)

Schofield: Perfectly fair! I think of the word malarky as carry on or behaviour. Technically it means nonsense. My mother used to say stop that malarky!

Now the word malarky also means thanks a million Joe Biden for putting the word on the lips of America and stumping for my novel. Behind every vice president is a Canadian episodic novel.

IFOA: When and where do you prefer to read?

Schofield: I have summer reading rituals and winter reading rituals (see my accompanying blog on this topic). In summer I love reading on Grandma’s deck but I can be found reading all year round, supine on my south facing couch, watching the rain. I also like to walk and read. For meteorological reasons this is less challenging on print ink during the summer. Although this summer plenty print was dripped upon during June.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Schofield: I would go inside my son’s computer screen at 6:40 am yesterday and surprise him. I would pop up in one of those Minecraft interfaces with a sign that read “For the 45th time have you brushed your teeth and for the Love of Snoopy put your bloody socks on.”

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It doesn’t really matter if…

Schofield: …you leave the house without your socks on unless you are worried about wet feet.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Schofield: Remix.

For more about Schofield at IFOA, click here.
Page 71 of 82« First...102030...6970717273...80...Last »